Clinton legacy in Arkansas

Arkansas: Clinton Library, Little Rock Nine and Folk Museum attract visitors

Bill Clinton is arguably the best thing to ever happen to Arkansas. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library has been a shot in the arm to the capital, Little Rock and the state as a whole.

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William J. Clinton Presidential Library

The 20,000-square foot Clinton Library has been dubbed the "front porch of Little Rock." Although some wags have derisively likened the architecture to a mobile home, the building was conceived as a bridge that is cantilevered over the Arkansas River. The 30-acre grounds have spurred development in a formerly derelict part of town; the Rock Island Railroad Bridge will be converted to a pedestrian walkway. It boasts the largest archives of any presidential library, so plan to spend a couple of hours exploring flipping through notebooks of his daily schedule, exhibits that trace the eight-year Clinton legacy and the full scale replica of the Oval Office. Fancy a Clinton bobble head? Check out the Museum Store housed in its own building.

Central High School National Historic Site and the Little Rock Nine

Downtown's River Market is Little Rock's renovated shopping, dining and entertainment district; there's even a twice-weekly Farmer's Market and a 50-cent streetcar that runs the route. But for me, the most soul-stirring attraction the second most popular in the city after the Clinton Library is the Central High School National Historic Site. In 1957, the 'Little Rock Nine,' nine courageous black students walked through an angry mob and defied armed troops to attend the high school of their choice. The case divided the city, closed public high schools for a year and commanded the world's attention before finally reaching the Supreme Court. It symbolizes the commitment of the federal government to ending segregation.

The Little Rock Nine
Today, the stately, sprawling school looks bucolic. And visitors can walk through the historic halls as part of guided tours. These are by reservation only. If scheduled tours are not at capacity, visitors without a reservation will be welcome to join but tours fill up quickly. Other tours of the area are offered as well.

Beyond Little Rock -- Hot Springs, Mountain View and more

Hot Springs, the nation's first federally protected area, is still a popular resort destination and an easy day trip from Little Rock; it's also where Clinton spent a good part of his boyhood. Named for its thermal springs, its well-preserved Victorian-era downtown is home to 'Bathhouse Row,' antique shops and restaurants. Horseracing enthusiasts can visit Oaklawn, in its 103rd year of operation and open every day of the year save Christmas.

Arkansas is the smallest state west of Mississippi, but it has a rich heritage. Further afield'about an hour and a half from Little Rock, is the rustic town of Mountain View with its limestone bluffs and hardwood forests. The town is home to the Ozark Folk Center, the only one in the country dedicated to

 Ozark Folk Center
preserving Southern traditional culture, music and crafts.

Strolling the grounds and talking to the artisans is like experiencing a living slice of American history. Basket weaver Sharon Fernimen explains, 'You can't be a perfectionist and a basket weaver,' as her hands coax white oak and pine straw into a functional work of art. There's also blacksmithing, silversmithing, broom making, candle making, quilting, tintype photography, pottery and much more to witness.

If any of the crafts ignite the latent artisan in you, sign up for a hands-on workshop. And don't miss a hearty meal at the Skillet Restaurant: fried chicken, fresh green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy and cobbler served family-style.

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A former Navy brat who traveled and lived abroad extensively, Suzanne Wright is a fulltime, freelance writer based in Atlanta. She is a member of NATJA, and has written numerous travel, food and decor features for numerous international, national and regional publications. Her articles have appeared in Elite Traveler, Wine & Spirits, Veranda, Atlanta Magazine, The Tennessean, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, Piedmont Review, Charlotte Place, Where, On Magazine and others. A suitcase is always packed and her passport always up to date.

All photos Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism

Updated: November 27, 2016

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